UMR helps with nationwide effort to commercialize fuel cells

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On August 10, 2004

The next battery-powered bunny may move to the beat of a different sort of battery — a solid oxide fuel cell — with the help of a new glass-ceramic seal being developed by researchers at UMR.

UMR recently received $278,527 from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a $4.2 million national effort to commercialize fuel cells. Dr. Richard Brow, chair of materials science and engineering and professor of ceramic engineering at UMR, and his colleagues are developing a stronger solid oxide fuel cell sealant from glass-ceramic materials.

Brow says the sealants are one of the last technological barriers to making solid oxide fuel cells work. "With luck we will surpass this barrier and then we’ll see fuel cells used in cars, homes and hospitals, along with the many other places they have been projected for use," says Brow.

"The advantage to using a glass-ceramic — instead of just a ceramic — is that you can process the glass like a liquid and then convert it to a ceramic, which is stronger," says Brow.

"The quality of seals used in solid oxide fuel cells are crucial to its overall performance," says Brow. "The seals separate the oxygen stream from the fuel stream so that a reaction doesn’t occur in an uncontrolled fashion."

Fuel cells generate power in an efficient and environmentally clean way, says Brow. Not only can they be refueled, but when hydrogen is used as the fuel the only byproduct is water.

Because fuel cells have to be operated at very high temperatures (at or above 700 degrees Celsius or about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit), it makes it difficult to find a sealant material that holds up without chemically reacting with other fuel components, or decomposing under the harsh operational environments, says Brow.

Possible applications for fuel cells include powering businesses, homes, vehicles, cell phones, laptop computers and some military technologies, Brow says.

Dr. Signo Reis, a visiting scientist working in the UMR Materials Research Center, and Teng Zheng, a Ph.D student in ceramic engineering, are collaborating with Brow on this research.

The development of effective seals is one of several materials-related fuel cell research projects under way at UMR, says Brow. Other materials-related fuel cell research includes the development of improved fuel cell electrolyte and electrode materials, and the development of novel approaches for processing fuel cell components.

UMR researchers involved in these efforts include Dr. Harlan Anderson, Curators’ Professor emeritus of ceramic engineering and director of the Electronic Materials Applied Research Center; Dr. Xiao-Dong Zhou, research assistant professor of the Electronic Materials Applied Research Center; Dr. Fatih Dogan, professor of ceramic engineering; and Dr. Greg Hilmas, assistant professor of ceramic engineering.

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On August 10, 2004. Posted in Research